In Derivatives, William Powhida audaciously looks today’s seemingly faceless problems right in the eye. The bulk and best of the show at Postmasters (through November 26) features pencil and watercolor drawings that take the form of manifestos and diagrams and range from notebook-page to mural size. At a time when rapid change renders the present ever more fleeting, Powhida anchors his work firmly in the here and now.
However, he in no way attempts to simplify or distill the present situation. The first drawing is a letter to the art world that begins, “I feel you there trying to process the CRAZY shit going on. I’ve been there for months, and it’s driving me INSANE.” The shit he’s talking about is endlessly multifarious: bankers, the Tea Party, Jeffrey Deitch, Bushwick, fluoride, you name it. To try to make sense of it all, Powhida close-reads the full gamut of media information, right down to obscure tweets. The results are drawings saturated with sharply opinionated text, both original and quoted, as well as corporate logos and portraits of power players.
The show’s astonishing triumph is that, unlike online, everything is worth reading. Out of the cacophony emerges a powerful clarity. Each piece is transparent in its intentions, whether those are to schematize political figures and art institutions, classify art critics and art dealers, or acknowledge the problems with selling art. Where Ryan Trecartin’s video work has deftly established an aesthetic for our brand- and internet-obsessed age, Powhida’s words cry out in opposition.
At a juncture where many Americans are taking to the streets, he refuses to disavow art’s capacity to mount earnest, rigorous, and self-conscious critique. With this show, some of the best thinking about inequality is happening on the vaunted white walls of Chelsea.
(Images courtesy the artist, Postmasters.)